Breathing is Not Overrated
I wanted to be invincible, a badass, a hiker goddess, but some days I receive the humbling reminder that I am not infallible or incapable of experiencing humanizing events.
Today I took a rather lengthy shuttle ride via ambulance to a very clean place with beds, but unfortunately it wasn’t a hostel and the showers weren’t free. The paramedic on the way did save my life, so although I’m salty for having to get my ass picked up on the side of the road due to failure of breathing, (normally I just breathe through my asthma attacks on trail and cry my way through them until I make it to the top of whatever the hell I’m climbing, but this one was relentless and got too far along to stop without rescue measures) I’m grateful to be alive, and humbled once again.
The trail has been amazing and challenging and loads of fun these past few weeks and I’ve had little time to write trying to be present for most of it. My friends and I have been hiking bigger miles than we did in the Whites and Maine, 16s-22s but mainly in the 17-18 mile range because we’ve decided we are enjoying ourselves and don’t enjoying pushing big miles day after day after day. Usually 17 is a comfortable range at this point with the terrain for me, but that doesn’t mean every day isn’t hard or painful, I’ve just learned to keep pushing through it. I’ve tested my limits in many ways, and today has definitely taught me where some of them are regarding food. Out here I’ve found a new sense of freedom that I’ve never known, and I have enjoyed my stretch of time where I allowed myself to enjoy foods I normally wouldn’t eat due to dietary restrictions to help maintain the calorie deficit. While my metabolism has seemed to process the gluten and dairy okay and with little complaint, my lungs and small airway, unfortunately have not faired well. It looks like those treats will mostly be treats of the past. I’m bummed. I enjoyed my time of freedom. Of feeling normal. Of eating whatever I wanted without worrying if I would die or get a stomachache that would knock me out for the rest of the day. It’s hard not to sulk, but I’m grateful for the time it gave me wings. I needed the experience to remember my own freedom, and freedom of choice.
As for what I’m doing, I have no clue. I know why I’m out here, my personal growth goals, and I’m working towards them despite the setbacks and so I just keep walking day after day. Made it to NY, so I’m headed somewhere, or so I think? Sometimes I ache for home and my friends and family badly and some days are filled with laughter and fun and I am quite content. I’m scared to be separated from my group – I’ve actually (and to my dismay) discovered that I hate hiking alone all the time. I like hiking alone and then meeting every few miles with people. Hiking 10-12 hours a day is a long time, at least some of those hours are nice to share during water breaks and at camp afterwards. I enjoy having a home base, but I also know eventually we will all probably navigate based on when we are visiting with family off trail and I’m feeling pretty nervous for the split. We’ve all had a lot of fun together and formed a “tramily” or trail family and I’m feeling uneasy about letting it go.
My friends joke out here I have two settings: badass Em and crybaby Em. Sometimes I push and push through excruciating pain and even harder to keep up even when I know I’ll never be as fast as those in the group I’m hiking with (I’ve been told I’m usually just a solid 17 mins behind normally though which I think is pretty good) and other times I’m growling like a toddler (and bear) because my tent has collapsed for the umpteenth time trying to set it up and I’m hangry.
If I’m having a bad day, I let myself cry it off. It usually constricts my airway, which poses a problem, but for the most part I’ve learned to breathe through the anxiety of not being able to breathe eventually into a place of homeostasis again. I guess I could spend more of my time being angry with myself for my body’s limitations, for being so sensitive to food and allergens, to not being as fast as most of the others, and sulking that I didn’t luck out in having a body that digests junk as well as a garbage truck does and transforms it into rocket fuel, but I’ve discovered it takes far more energy to dwell and beat myself up than it does to let myself off the hook, but easier said than done. If you know me, I’m determined, stubborn, and I don’t like doing anything that I’m passionate about half assed. I always want to be the best I can be, but I’m constantly reminded out here that “the best” is subjective for each person. I am learning to accept and honor my body’s own version of “best.” I forget sometimes I’m doing an incredibly challenging thing, and so I’m working to let myself off the hook more often.
I’m not proud that I’ve regressed to my toddler moments at times where I’m almost in tears over something silly because my body hasn’t had dinner yet due to the fact my tent always gets set up first and my water filtered before I tackle meals. But that’s life. And I’m human, and it’s okay to have those moments. It’s okay to be vulnerable and raw and not always at your best even when you wish you were. I want to be sunshine and daisies and a badass all the time. But the truth is that I’m not, and that’s okay. Maybe that makes me more of a badass by being able to admit those things? I don’t know. It’s all these parts of myself that make me human. And I’m learning to accept and love all of it, even if I don’t like that I have a temper sometimes, or that I seem to have missed out on a whole generation of movies and culture that everyone else around me has seemed to experience.
In my moments of vulnerability I focus on tangible things – like allowing myself to accept help when I’m dying on the side of the road even though I’m stubborn as hell and want to handle it alone, or practicing asking for help before I’m dying, or practicing expressing feelings that arise out here to others without judging myself or feeling less than because of them.
Good times, painful times, and many challenging moments out here, but I’m having fun, I’m growing, I’m having the epic adventure of a lifetime, and I’m moving towards Georgia more each day so I think I’m doing all right.
Thanks Mom and Dad for putting up with my ill health moments so gracefully. I know it’s scary and not easy being so far away. I miss everyone at home so much and I am so grateful for all the love and support pouring in.
I promise I’m doing all right – it’s just been a growth experience rather than a setback and tomorrow is a brand new day so I’m gonna keep on walking. I’ll try to be gentle. Still learning.
Until next time,
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.
You are doing great out there. Beautiful blog, it seems you are well on your way to Georgia and your personal goals.
I am so sorry to hear about your medical issues. As a fellow sufferer, but not as bad, I can relate to gluten causing asthma issues. I hope you recover quickly and are able to quickly get back on the trail.
You are out there giving it all you’ve got through good times and bad. You are a bad ass. Stay well. If you find yourself crossing into Maryland on 9/21/17, I’ll be at Pen-Mar with trail magic. ?
E, you are doing well, I enjoy reading your posts! I hope to be on the trail next year NOBO. I hope you keep up the determination that you have to finish the trail. Enjoy!!
Great post. The trail is as much mental as it is physical, just keep putting one foot in front of the other.